January 27, 2021

IM Book Review: Disarming Scripture

Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did
Derek Flood
Metanoia Books (2014)

• • •

Note from CM: This book review is part of a “blog tour” to which the author invited me. Occasionally, publishers will send me books or authors will contact me and ask if I will review a new book. Most of the time I don’t accept — I don’t have time and I prefer to choose my own reading and writing material. But this one looked interesting, and I thought it might fit with some of our recent discussions about Scripture. Other contributors to IM in recent days, such as Peter Enns and Rob Grayson, have also offered their thoughts on the book. You can access a full list of those participating in the blog tour at Derek’s blog.

Here’s a publisher’s summary of the book’s contents:

Derek Flood’s new book Disarming Scripture has just been released this week. It deals with the problem of violence in Scripture, tackling a wide range of troubling passages—from commands to commit genocide and infanticide in the Old Testament to passages in the New Testament that have been used to justify slavery, child abuse, and state violence.

Moving beyond typical conservative and liberal approaches, which seek to either defend or whitewash over violence in the Bible, Disarming Scripture takes a surprising yet compelling approach: Learning to read Scripture like Jesus did.

Derek Flood also wrote Healing the Gospel: A Radical Vision for Grace, Justice, and the Cross. He blogs at The Rebel God and also at Red Letter Christians, Sojourners, and Huffington Post.

Scripture is only read right when it is read in a way that leads us to a Jesus-shaped life and a Jesus-shaped understanding of God’s heart.

Rather than do a full review of the book, there is one concept and one chapter that I will talk about today with regard to Derek Flood’s Disarming Scripture. It is chapter 6, “Reading on a Trajectory.”

The concept of trajectory reading is something that I myself have encouraged iMonk readers to consider, especially with regard to the question of patriarchy and women’s full participation in the church and her ministries. For example, in post from 2010 called, “Why I am an egalitarian,” I made the following point:

Finally, the overall arc of the Biblical story is from creation to new creation. In Jesus, the new creation has begun to break in to this present age. This means that we who follow Christ must alter our views of all earthly categories that characterize this fallen world: family (Mark 3.31-15), marriage (1Cor 7, Eph 5), children (Matt 18.1-5), slavery (Eph 6, Col 4, Philemon), who may speak for God (Acts 2.17-18), and authority structures (Matt 20.24-28).

This is where a passage like Galatians 3.28 comes in, with its insistence that the old categories simply no longer apply in the same way they did before for those who are now in Christ.

Derek Flood takes this concept and applies it to questions about violence in the Bible.

There is undeniably a marked difference between the two testaments in regards to violence, that even the most casual observer is quick to recognize. While the Old Testament contains repeated commands for God’s people to commit genocidal slaughter, in contrast there are no commands in the New Testament for people to kill anyone at all (let alone commands to commit genocide). On the contrary, the way of retribution is explicitly forbidden in the New Testament, and followers of Jesus are called to the way of nonviolent enemy love and radical forgiveness . . .

First, in order to see the arc that Scripture takes, bringing us from OT to NT, the author encourages us to step back and recognize the major changes that had taken place in Judaism by the time of Jesus and the apostles. Israel’s status as a nation had been altered dramatically. The people who had begun their journey with God as slaves in Egypt were now back in captivity. The kingdom, after having split in two, was first scattered by Assyria (Israel) and then exiled into Babylon (Judah). The prophets spoke to them before and during this exile, promising restoration and triumph over their enemies once more if only God’s people would repent.

Israel did in fact repent, according to the postexilic writings, and was restored to their land. Jerusalem and the Temple were rebuilt. However, glorious deliverance from bondage and victory over the enemy was never realized. The Jews continued to suffer under the oppression and occupation of foreign powers for centuries: Persia, Greece, and then Rome. Though they experienced temporary triumphs, such as those in the days of the Maccabees, their great King and Warrior-God never showed up to take his throne and cast the occupying armies out of their homeland.

Then Jesus came on the scene, introduced by a forerunner: In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’” (Matt. 3:1-2). God was finally coming to rule! But what a surprise to hear Jesus describe that rule.

Jesus instead comes and proposes a very different narrative and understanding of who God is: Those who are suffering, sick, and victimized are not being punished by God for their sins; they are under Satan’s bondage and need to be set free. Salvation does not come through a warrior messiah who brings military victory through violent conquest, as many of the prophets predicted. Rather, the messiah preaches military renunciation, calling instead for forgiveness and love of enemies. Salvation comes on the cross by the messiah suffering unjust violence, not inflicting it. The enemy is not another nation; the enemy is the devil, and the recipient of God’s salvation is again not a single nation, but the whole world.

Flood sees Jesus’ message as fitting perfectly into the Hebrew prophetic tradition: faithfully questioning the religious leaders who were advocating unquestioning submission to the law and rigorous adherence to its rituals, but who were blind to the true intention of the law, which was designed to promote love. They lorded it over God’s people through fear and intimidation. Jesus, on the other hand, prioritized compassion towards others over absolute compliance to rules. In another chapter, Derek Flood says, “For Jesus, questioning religious violence in ourselves, in our faith, and in our sacred text is a moral imperative.”

The Old Testament is full of this argument/counter-argument style that went on between Jesus and the Jewish leadership. Think of Job vs. his friends and the clear-cut moralism of Proverbs, the book of Ecclesiastes, the prophets who questioned sacrifices, worship, fasting, and other required observances when they came at the expense of the poor. Think of the psalmists and prophets who complained even against God allowing the wicked and violent to prosper. Flood remarks: “The inclusion of this minority voice of the victim within its canon is something that sets the Hebrew Bible apart from other writings of the time, especially because it maintains, against the voice of authority, that their suffering is unjust.”

Thus the New Testament not only joins in the Hebrew tradition of faithful questioning of sacred violence, it proposes a new nonviolent vision of who God is and what salvation looks like: The warrior God has become the suffering God. God has been disarmed because Jesus reveals the true heart of the Father. God does not look like the warrior king clothed in the blood of his enemies; God instead looks like Jesus, clothed in his own blood, shed for his enemies.

Jesus brought the prophetic tradition to climactic fulfillment by emphasizing the way of forgiveness and enemy love as the way God rules in his kingdom. Israel should not expect the violent overthrow of their national enemies and the re-establishment of a kingdom that rules by keeping its foot on the neck of the conquered. Jesus came to bring new creation by turning the people’s expectations about power and violence and victory upside down. God absorbed the violence to bring us peace.

The second part of Derek Flood’s argument is that Jesus and the apostles and their writings only represent the critical point of the trajectory and not the culmination of its arc. New creation is not yet fully realized and God’s people must carry on, discerning how to participate in the expansion of God’s rule throughout the world.

The most common example is that of slavery. If we take the NT as a static collection of absolute truth and morality, we must say that those who advocated for slavery in the 1800’s were correct. Perhaps the practice should be more humane, but nowhere does the NT say it should be abolished. The abolitionists, on the other hand, argued their case based on the redemptive trajectory of the NT. Though the apostles did not specifically say slavery should be abolished, they sowed the seeds of its undoing. Actually undoing it, however, required that we read the Bible with discernment and let the Holy Spirit, as it were, take us “beyond the Bible” to apply it according to the law of love.

Reading on a trajectory thus means recognizing that what we find in the New Testament is not a final unchangeable eternal ethic, but rather the first major concrete steps away from the dominant religious and political narrative which understood oppression and violence as virtuous, and towards a better way rooted in compassion.

. . . A trajectory reading therefore results in a forward-moving, growing, progressing ethic at the cutting-edge of moral advance, rather than one that is tethered to the past, often found on the side of fighting against moral progress in human and civil rights, being the very last to change, pulled kicking and screaming and dragging its feet into the future.

This is not easy. It requires learning to read with discernment. It requires learning to read together so that we work out in community what it means to practice a compassionate faith and live the life of forgiveness and enemy love. It requires wisdom that goes beyond Bible knowledge, the kind of wisdom James encourages:

. . . the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Thanks to Derek Flood for giving us some insight in how to seek that wisdom.


  1. I honestly have a hard time with this. Not that I am of the violent conservative bent but, rather, that I am leery of expanding on what scripture already says, as if it hasn’t said enough, or is incomplete. It kind of reminds me of the most recent Tom Clancy books which weren’t really written by him (He’s recently passed away) but is, instead, written by another author in the spirit of Tom Clancy! I understand that there is a lot of wiggle room in the application of biblical instruction, but still…

    • Christiane says

      there is a difference between us looking at Scripture through a glass darkly,
      and us looking at Scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ

      • That doesn’t shed any light on the subject…at least for ME.

        • Christ is the key to the scriptures. Apart from Him, they are of no value to us, and all of it testifies to Him.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

            Well that seems to be what Jesus thought – or at least the gospel writers. I always found the Emmaus Road story fascinating, since as far as we know this was the very first example of the “Jesus hermeneutic”.

          • True enough, the promise of Christ is threaded throughout the Old Testament, but it is NOT all about HIM, as most people like to say. It is the story of the seed of Abraham and its descendants and how God dealt with them.

            The upshot was, of course, that their own righteousness was not dependent on their works as they had thought. Nor was the Promise sufficient to bring them to righteousness in and of itself but, rather, it was dependent on a kinsman redeemer, a savior, the promised ONE who would teach them of righteousness.

            It is not until the New Covenant that the realization of that Promise appears, in the Person of Christ. But the review of the book above does not lead ME to that conclusion. Its eems to be more ambiguity. Perhaps I am just too small minded to see it.

          • Yes, Miguel. And a careful read of Hebrews shows just how much the OT ways and law were just a foreshadowing of what would be fulfilled by Jesus. Priesthood, tabernacle, etc. etc….all of it.

    • Look at it this way. We have a lot of scripture through the apostles, but then the text largely jumps over all of our history in the present and briefly looks at a glorious future, new earth, new heaven, etc. There’s a purposeful gap in the Bible, which we could call “common age”, before focusing on what things will be like in the very end. At that time, those chapters in human history had yet to be written. The church has grown and stretched, dropped off some parts, picked up some weird warts, but still continued on towards that glorious end that was talked about.

      In a sense, everything that has happened post Patmos is a “new common age canon”. It doesn’t have the same rules and restrictions and qualifications of the OT and NT, but it’s still a summary of how God is working in the world and creating his church and people. It’s just already had the final chapter written.

      We live in the inbetween. Between our common history and our future hope.

    • It kind of reminds me of the most recent Tom Clancy books which weren’t really written by him (He’s recently passed away) but is, instead, written by another author in the spirit of Tom Clancy!

      I view it as “it’s in the Bible, so God still wanted me to have it”. Doesn’t matter one bit if Paul or whomever actually wrote it. It’s in there, it’s profitable, God wanted me to read it. By faith I accept that.

      Alternatively, it’s in the Bible so some council or leader thought it was important or more important than another book because it fit his/their vision of how things fit, or politics were at play, or whatever, so it’s in there for whatever reason, and I can either accept it or figure out why I shouldn’t read this epistle of straw.


      • Doesn’t matter one bit if Paul or whomever actually wrote it.

        Unless, of course, it actually says, “I, Paul, am writing this.” In which case, the text would be dishonest. But this is not the case for many books in the Bible, I believe. The number with explicitly claimed authorship is rather small, I’d wager. This coming from a guy who nearly always trusts the traditionally ascribed author, though I really give the Gospel of Mark to Peter’s credit.

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

          Really? I’d never heard that one before. I love the gospel of Mark, though.

          • I think Miguel might be referring to the idea that Mark got much of his gospel account from Peter as he traveled with him. But nothing is known for certain.

          • Right. I’m sure it was Mark’s hand on the pen, but it reads like Peter’s story. Not that I think it really matters, but I really doubt Mark undertook this project with complete independence.

      • What I meant was that the subject of the book is like a Clancy novel written by someone else. I wasn’t refering to the Bible.

  2. I am leaning with Oscar on this one….if we are looking at Scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ, WHOSE interpretation of Christ are we using to adjust our lens and make our judgments?? I am afraid that we circle back to satan being able to use scripture for his own (evil) purposes, and that can happen to well meaning Christians when they start to ask the old “WWJD” questions and answering instead with “What do I THINK Jesus would do?” So, part one of Flood’s thesis is fine….part two, not so much.

    • Let me give another example, Pattie, for discussion’s sake. Flood brings up the idea of corporal punishment. As presented in the Bible, children are to be beaten on the back with a rod until they have “stripes” or “wounds.” It will not kill them, the Bible says, but will teach them wisdom. Some Christians, such as John Wesley, agreed fully with this, said parents should start at the age of one, never let children cry or get their own way, and break their will at every opportunity.

      Most people, and most Christians would consider that child abuse today. Why? Because we’ve gone “soft” and no longer believe the Bible? Or because we have developed a deeper moral sense based on compassion and what we’ve learned about other consequences of doing this? Is this not “going beyond the Bible”?

      • This would be the Pearl’s philosophy of child raising, built on the back of Gothard’s ideas.

        It’s despicable.

      • Despite my very traditional upbringing, I never really heard that “stripes and wounds” part. Where is that mentioned, Leviticus?

        • “Blows and wounds scrub away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being” (Prov 23:30).

          • The reference you give, with the verse that follows, are my all time LEAST favorite passage of Scripture. 😛

            The verse you quote, however, is Proverbs 20:30, and it is not talking about child discipline.

            • Sorry for the bad reference. No it is not specifically about child discipline, but is a general “rule” about the value of beatings, using the same words that are used throughout Proverbs to describe beating one’s children. Modern applications of this in contemporary recommendations for corporal punishment ignore that Proverbs is advocating real beatings. In one text it compares it to whipping animals and other texts talk about beating with a rod across the back, not the “seat of learning” as many of us were taught. Another example of a not very careful reading of the actual meaning of the Bible’s words.

          • Ok, but the Bible doesn’t say “children are to be beaten on the back with a rod until they have stripes or wounds.” It gives this to government. I’m sure they didn’t distinguish between a caning and a spanking like we do today, but neither did they treat their children like criminals. “Beat your child” is there, but “wound your child” is not. And as a general observation, it is fair to say that caning imparts wisdom, in the sense that it makes a person think twice before repeating the same crime. It’s a long way from there to saying that some forms of Biblicism lead to every father owning a cat of nine tails.

            • Any way you swing it (pun intended), what the Bible portrays would be considered abuse by most people, including Christians, today. Even “spanking” is a trajectory interpretation, several points down the spectrum from “beat them with a rod across the back.”

              • And I do think “wound” is inherent in the word “beat.” Though I’m sure there was no intent to cause lasting physical harm, I’m pretty sure they weren’t too worried about welts, bruises, even a little blood.

                The world was not, by and large, pleasant for children in times past.

          • Clay Clarkson says

            This is just for future readers of this string. Physical discipline of “children” in Scripture does not require a trajectory hermeneutic to make sense of what seems like counterintuitive divine instruction on the discipline of children. What is needed is better exegesis. There are no “little children” in Proverbs; only “young men.” The Hebrew term “na’ar” used for most of the “rod” passages in Proverbs points to young men in their mid teens and up, not little children. This is true of Prov 22:6 as well. I’ve written about this in my book Heartfelt Discipline (chapters 3 and 12). It’s long past time for the Christian community to disabuse itself of the notion that God commands parents to rod their little children. There’s much more, but it took a book to say it.

            • Not sure this is that helpful, Clay. If what you are saying is true, we’ll have people writing books about beating their teenagers. There are other problems with your thesis: for example, the Book of Proverbs was written primarily to teach young men wisdom. The ones who are preparing to marry and have children are the primary recipients of these sayings, not their parents.

              The fact is, Proverbs advocates physical discipline of the young, including children. According to some sources, the range of the word na’ar can be from infancy to adolescence anyway.

              But where I agree with you is that doesn’t mean that we should necessarily follow this counsel the way many modern advocates of corporal punishment teach. After all, these sayings are PROVERBS, not laws. They reflect the common wisdom of the day, and are not divine mandates. A trajectory interpretation is perhaps most applicable to sayings like proverbs, because the wisdom we have gained from observing the way the world works best has changed immensely since it was considered a good thing to cane either children or teenagers.

          • I address each of your comments in the book. Na’ar is used of a wide range of ages, but predominantly of young men. In the context of Proverbs, in my opinion, the use points to the object of the rod passages being young men, not little children. The Hebrew language for a small child is not used in Proverbs. The indication of the four “rod and child” proverbs (out of 900+) is that foolish young men (22:15) need to be treated as one would a disobedient slave. The point is, it’s serious business. However, that wisdom is within the OT Law system. I’m not saying a trajectory interpretation is not valid; in fact, I agree with it. I’m simply saying it is not necessary in order to stop the egregious “divine mandate” view of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity that says that God has commanded parents to physically discipline their children (with a rod, if taken literally, which many do), and that they are disobeying God and will raise rebels if they don’t. I believe that is bad exegesis that results in unnecessary harm to children and it needs to be corrected. Perhaps it would make a good discussion string at some point.

      • I would say its more how our culture has developed. If it just happens to be “moral” then fine. but it has developed APART from Christian thought for the most part. Your example CM has more the flavor of because the culture has changed then it must be moral. Just ruminating…

    • if we are looking at Scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ, WHOSE interpretation of Christ are we using to adjust our lens and make our judgments?

      The apostles’. Do a study of how the NT interprets the OT – I mean, look at where the NT quotes the OT, and what context the NT puts the quote overagainst the original OT context. The book of Hebrews is especially good in this regard.

      • Yes. There can be no discussion about interpretations without attention to the distinctive calling of the apostles, and the high ecclesiology that was founded by them. And once you have given their distinction as the church’s foundation, you no longer need to ask “whose Jesus?” or “whose interpretation?”

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

      I am leaning with Oscar on this one….if we are looking at Scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ, WHOSE interpretation of Christ are we using to adjust our lens and make our judgments??
      Unfortunately, Pattie, that same question can be posed to every hermeneutic out there.

    • Patti, very true. Limited atonement penal substitution Jesus is very different from Christus Victor “I will draw all men to myself” Jesus who is different from I just want to snuggle with you Jesus. So it’s not like having a “Jesus lens” solves anything. The thing is, we all already have a lens and it’s already determining how we may make sense of the biblical story. It’s unavoidable. Everyone has ways of trying to fit the pieces together and of determining what trumps what. Being somewhat familiar with Flood’s work, I think that his book will be as much about the nature and purpose of the Biblical text itself as it is about Biblical exegesis and how we each form the lens that guides our thinking.

    • “if we are looking at Scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ, WHOSE interpretation of Christ are we using to adjust our lens and make our judgments??”

      The real one. With the Holy Spirit, and in community, and with some seriously hard work. The only way to correctly construct a hermeneutic is with in humility, with the conviction that Jesus really does want to show himself.

      Whatever challenges there are, we must start out with the assumption that there IS a correct hermeneutic out there somewhere, and it can be grasped. We’re all on a journey, so not everyone is going to see clearly all the time, and that’s why we can’t assume that Bible reading is this personal pursuit that any individual can easily master by just opening it up and looking for the “plain reading.”

      But we must concede that if there really is a Holy Spirit indwelling us, then there MUST be a true Jesus communicated in the word, and that he’s not out of reach. We gradually grow into that vision of Jesus, according to the Scriptures, given by the apostles, and in the power of the Spirit. The fastest way to repeat the mistakes of the church’s past is to look at Scripture (or Jesus himself) and conclude “therefore there’s no we way can be sure of anything, and no matter what we discover Jesus to look like, it’s just subjective and therefore untrustworthy.”

      I know that’s not quite what you’re saying, but I hear that argument mounted a lot, and it’s basically the equivalent hermeneutical relativism. It’s no good.

  3. Let’s think about this. So, for example, since the Bible assumes the existence of slavery and gives instructions to slaves and masters, and nowhere says that slavery should be abolished, Christians were wrong in going “beyond the Bible” to say that slavery was unChristian and counter to the way of Christ? Must women wear head coverings and keep completely silent in church settings and call their husbands “lord”? Early Christians refused to serve in the military because they saw it as contrary to the way of Christ. Were they wrong to try and understand how the NT affects such decisions?

    Why does the OT promote violence by God’s people against their enemies and forbid it in the NT?

    Don’t we use discernment in reading and applying the Bible’s teaching all the time?

    • This is nothing new. These distinctions have been discussed for years beyond count. I just don’t see anything new that the author offers. Perhaps your brief review just doesn’t catch the subtlety of the author’s proposal.

      • You’re probably right, Oscar, and my review wasn’t helped by the fact that I had to go out on call last night in the midst of writing it. You might want to check a few of the other reviews/interviews such as those I’ve linked to get a fuller flavor of the book.

      • I just don’t see anything new that the author offers.

        This is how I feel about literally any pastor I hear speak nowadays. Just another talking person saying the same things a hundred different people say every weekend all across the country.

        And yet some things are worth repeating and discussing from different angles.

        • “I just don’t see anything new that the author offers.”

          You could say that about the Bible, too. Why read it? Nothing new under the sun.

          Yet, as StuartB says, some things are worth repeating and discussing from different angles.

    • Mike, the “slavery card” is such a tired rouse. People could never use the Bible to justify the practice of slavery in the American South, and those who tried were very careful to blatantly ignore the passages that instruct them, as masters, on how to treat their slaves. They weren’t appealing to theology and hermeneutics, it is disingenuous to paint them as such, but were rather taking advantage of a cultural institution to fortify their positions of power. That is a completely different thing.

      That being said, the Bible is not against slavery, per se. It is *clearly* (though I know many here find such assertions grating) against: enslaving, racism, violence, abuse, murder, and exploitation. Take away those, is there still such a thing as slavery? Yes, but at this point, it resembles voluntary indentured servanthood. Paul and Jesus are not very concerned with who owns who, they are generally very pro-authority. Rather, they are concerned with how people treat one another, regardless of position: “Each of you should strive to be the servant of all.”

      But it is unhelpfully overgeneralizing to say “the Bible isn’t against slavery.” No honest Biblicist can defend the practice as it usually happened, it was clearly a human dignity issue which the Bible speaks quite directly to. This is red herring is usually a pre-text to show how the Bible is wrong about something else, too, and it is quite ridiculous to have an exchange with people who, on one hand, attempt to justify their position with scripture, and on the other, attempt to show how we actually know better than the Biblical authors. To me, this line is up there with “hate the sin, love the sinner,” “Jesus said thou shalt not ever judge anybody ever under any circumstances, but rather, live and let live.”

      • I don’t see how the “slavery card” is a tired rouse.

        From “The Bible Made Impossible” (itself a critique of Biblicism): “Previous decades of heated debate by biblical scholars and ministers who trusted the Bible as God’s authoritative word simply could not resolve the conflict by an appeal to the divine texts. If anything, the more strictly Biblicist approach supported the proslavery position. On a basic, important moral question addressed in the Bible, the scriptures proved impotent in providing a definitive teaching that sincere believers might have agreed on and this perhaps avoided war. The civil war was in its deepest meaning a “theological crisis.” It required raw, gory, military might – and took the lives of 620,000 soldiers, not counting incalculable other casualties – to “settle” the matter……Furthermore, it was precisely the decades after the civil war that “biblical” Christianity was discarded by a majority of American intellectuals as doubtful, and it was displaced by pragmatism, positivism, and materialism. If ever there had been a time when the Bible needed to teach a clear word on an urgent moral issue, the 1850s and early 1860s was it. But no clear word was forthcoming. Mortal enemies instead found clear biblical support for their opposing and irreconcilable convictions.”

        Also, see “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis” by Mark Noll.

        In hindsight, we might say that one side is just flat out theologically dishonest and ignores the Bible while the other was right all along, but that’s a luxury that we have of being able to view the issue from a different time and place. As long as Biblicism is around, the “slavery card” serves as a reminder and warning.

        • I am extremely unimpressed by that quote, and the whole line of reasoning.

          If anything, the more strictly Biblicist approach supported the proslavery position

          Only if by “Biblicist” we mean “picking and choosing some verses and deliberately ignoring others.”

          The human dignity issue was clearly present in the text the whole time.
          Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 4:1, Galatians 3:28, Philippians 2, the book of Philemon, Ephesians 5:21, Matthew 20:26, just off the top of my head, present a VERY clear case on human dignity that cannot be reconciled with the practice of slavery. AND, the Christians KNEW this: Christendom was the global leader in abolitionism, and it wasn’t because they all decided to stop believing the Bible. It is because they all could no longer deny where the teaching of Christ leads, and those who fought back did so to protect their positions of power, not to defend the kingdom of God. Let’s not pretend that the powerful never have their “faithful ministers and exegetes” in tow.

          Further, it did not require so much bloodshed to settle the matter. Only in America did we resort to violence to settle the issue.

          “The Text means what I SAY it means ‘cause I have a bigger club than you,” isn’t Biblicism, it’s institutional fundamentalism.

          The “slavery card” is not a reminder of the dangers of Biblicism, it’s a reminder of how easily we can miss the forrest for the trees in the text when our self interest is on the line. But the choices aren’t between that and abandoning “Biblical Christianity,” as Christian Smith so hastily asserts. Those who would claim to be of such tradition in America today still greatly outnumber his tribe (Roman Catholic, I believe) and secularist atheists combined.

          • Only in America did we have such a theological argument from the Bible, and Noll’s book highlights the roles of the Awakenings, especially the second Great Awakening with its down to earth revivalism, in convincing people of a literalist, “common sense, realistic” view of the Bible. The pro-slavery position did not have to prove a thing. The Bible did not outlaw slavery. Period. Sure, it could be more humane, and even a means of converting slaves to Christianity, but it was there in the Bible and nobody ever outlawed it. If Noll is right, and he is very persuasive IMO, the Civil War was indeed largely the result of a theological crisis and the outcome of two competing ways of reading the Bible in a “Christian nation.” The abolitionists’ trajectory interpretation was too complex and nuanced to be immediately accessible, just as talk radio and Daily Show type “journalism” today influences so many people into simplistic black and white (or red/blue) thinking, while thoughtful analysis and carefully argued theses are dismissed as elitist.

            Just as today, when we continue this tradition by being the world’s focal point for the “culture wars,” there is something about our common sense, realistic approach to democracy that makes us continually susceptible to these divisions and contrary ways of reading Scripture.

            The more I learn about American history, the more I realize that these religious distinctions have been with us much longer than I ever imagined.

          • Christian Smith never asserts an abandonment of biblical Christianity. Not true, but is not really my point

            I’m in agreement with much of what you say. Slavery in all its forms is deplorable. While never directly condemned, I think the NT put a ticking time bomb by the whole institution of slavery. If I just looked up “slavery” I’d have a tough time proving that. I don’t believe that just because I can now grab a handful of NT verses to lob like grenades to combat the barrage of OT (and NT) grenade verses, but because of the gospel revelation of the worth of every person. To say that pervasive interpretive pluralism is real is not to say that all interpretations are equally valid. Not at all.

            Where I simply don’t agree is the idea that the “slavery card” is this idea that’s made up by skeptics to make Christians or the Bible look bad. That it’s this overblown thing that didn’t really happen (or at least didn’t cause any REAL issues) and that it could have been resolved by 3 or 4 carefully chosen Bible verses but one side simply proof texted them away. That there are no verses in the Bible, OT or NT, that would support slavery with a “plain reading”. Simply not true. It’s more complex than that. I don’t agree, and that’s fine. What’s beyond dispute in my mind is that there WAS a complex, biblicism driven theological component underlying the issue itself and that it was catastrophic on many levels. Take a look at Nolls book.

          • CM, that makes sense, but would you then say that the pro-slavery theology was more a result of the culture of those reading scripture than a Biblicist hermeneutic? I’m responding to Smith’s assertion that “decades after the civil war that “biblical” Christianity was discarded by a majority of American intellectuals as doubtful.” There has always been a strong intellectual tradition within “Biblical Christianity” (with most common ways of defining that).

            Mike H, I wasn’t trying to point the finger at skeptics drying to mar Christianity so much as theological progressives who shoehorn canyons of ambiguity into the text. “Slavery was wrong, therefore gay marriage is fine with Jesus” type of Christianity.

            You are convincing me that many at the time saw the Bible as not condemning slavery to the point that they felt they couldn’t condemn it in either. But I’m sure you and I agree that the human dignity parts of scripture don’t take a rocket scientist to discern. I suppose we can understand how it was missed by them, but as I said earlier in this comment, it seems more due to culture than Biblicism. Of course, anti-intellectual Biblicism will always get you into trouble, and as CM said, some of the nuance that such ancient texts demand were too complex for the average Joe back then.

  4. Great thoughts, really helps to address how we interpret Scripture. This reminds me of another book I’m currently reading titled “Is God a Moral Monster?”, which addresses the history/context of all the horrible violence and strange laws of the OT. One of the main conclusions seems to be that despite how things were often done in the OT, it was not how things were to ultimately be, but rather simply how God was dealing with specific people at specific times, and was steadily directing mankind towards His ultimate plans for us. Anyways, thanks for the review, I might have to pick up this one next!

    • Great book, by the way. The bible doesn’t necessarily confirm that violence is good, it just portrays what happened as a cautionary narrative. Perhaps we need to look at OT as Jewish scholars do. It IS their book, isn’t it?

      • I have a really tough time seeing how, taking the violent texts simply as they are written, anyone can come to the conclusion that these texts are not portraying divine violence as “good”. The commands to violence are presented as just that, commands from an unchanging God, not regrettable choices. The stories themselves don’t give any indication of regret or ambiguity on the part of God or the Israelite people. The extermination is portrayed as being unambiguously violent, merciless, complete and divinely commanded. The only reason that we bother to think otherwise now is due to 1)Jesus 2)the numerous (too many to count) other texts that at a surface level would appear to flat out contradict it (I don’t desire the death of the wicked, etc.) 3)we now morally recognize that genocide is wrong. However, in most theological models that I’ve seen (the kind that are in line with the Chicago statement on inerrancy at least) the forced answer is always not so much “is violence good?” as “here’s why it’s good/here’s how it fits into the systematic belief system”. Or at the very least, “here’s why it was good/necessary THEN”. The violence HAS to be “good” in some way (given the paradigm) so it’s just matter of finding out how (and often times trying to hide the implications). The early church fathers more or less allegorized them away, but I don’t really see that as viable.

        I’m somewhat familiar with Flood’s work, and I think that he (similar to what Enns did in his recent book) will offer a different paradigm where one doesn’t need to hide or explain away divine violence, but can flat out reject it in light of Jesus. Whether he’s successful at doing that (and what the implications are) are another matter.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

      Copan, right? I was surprised by what I would almost call a flippant attitude toward the moral injustices found in the OT. I think I would have appreciated it more if he took his ideas to their logical conclusion (a non-omnipotent God). As it was, I had a hard time considering his work to be thoughtful.

  5. There definitely seems to be a progression in Scripture, from naiveté in the Garden, through rebellion, rules, and coercion in the Old Covenant, and finally to all-healing love and peace in Christ. It rather mirrors the growth of a person, from infancy and childhood, through the turbulent teen years, the growth of early adulthood, and finally into maturity, where all is at rest because the prior experience has given birth to prudence and wisdom.

    This growth, ultimately, sees its fulfillment in the person of Christ who, being in very nature God, deigned to become a little baby himself, knowing nothing, becoming a fool to make us wise. As he grew up, his will sometimes conflicted with his parents’, as seen in the Temple incident, and even later at the wedding in Cana. But eventually, he reached adulthood, and then surpassed it, showing us the better part, teaching us by example what true love was, ultimately at the Cross, paying the ultimate price to ransom captives who hated him. And he wasn’t even satisfied there, for then he came back for us! He is the firstfruit of them that sleep, that we might be raised with him through his empowering grace. And this perfected state of existence is free to everyone, for the grace is procured by faith in Christ, without necessity of wit, ritual adherence, ecstasies, wisdom of hard times, or anything, for he has done it all!

    (TLDR: The Bible – the ultimate bildungsroman, starring Jesus.)

    If we do not read the Bible with an eye to Christ as the fulfillment of its tale (and every one of ours, too), we do it and its Author a disservice.

    • Beautiful. Much to think about here.

    • “(TLDR: The Bible – the ultimate bildungsroman, starring Jesus.)”

      Had to look up two things in that sentence. “TLDR”: too long, didn’t read it. If we are talking about reading every last word of the Bible, not select passages,I would be very interested in an accurate poll of those self-identifying as Christians or followers of Jesus as to how many had actually read the book thru. I’m guessing it would be abysmally low, if an honest response could be obtained.

      “Bildungsroman”: a coming of age story. Fair enough, but I don’t think it stops with Jesus. I believe that the story continues with us, both us humanity and us individuals. To me it seems like the whole point here is to grow up, which I have found much easier to say than to do. I believe if we are not striving to fulfill the tale in our lives, we are indeed doing the story and its Author a great disservice.

      • RE: “TLDR,” I actually meant it to introduce a pithy summary of the wall of text that preceded it, but your point is likely correct. I read it through once when I was a kid/tween, but I’m always finding more and more amazing things when I go back now and actually REFLECT on the material, even if I get it in smaller and not necessarily contiguous doses.

        “the whole point here is to grow up, which I have found much easier to say than to do.”
        Tell me about it… the more I grow, the further I realize I have yet to grow.

      • Patrick Kyle says

        Cover to cover. Twice. Not including assigned readings in school, devotional reading, study for preaching or teaching, or memorization. Read most books in the Bible dozens of times. Some NT books more than that.

  6. Sounds like an interesting book. Makes me wonder if this is truth: God-directed violence toward unrighteous people gave way to God-allowed violence directed toward His son.

  7. “Oh be careful little eyes what you see”…because it might not be approved material from the MOG and thus could cause you to question and doubt what the MOG says…

    I’ll echo it sounds like a very interesting book. I have a lot of Walton and Enns to catch up on as well.

    • Also: whenever I see something Christian followed by the name Derek, my mind automatically reads it as Derek Prince, and then my whole soul shudders. He may have repented later but he did enough damage to many lives, and his books are still out there sans repentance…

  8. Flood’s “trajectory” reading sounds very much like Dr. William J. Webb’s “redemptive movement” hermeneutic (Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring The Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, IVP). Is Flood suggesting his view is more a lens for interpretation and progressive understanding, or actually a defensible hermeneutic? I found myself with Webb sometimes feeling like he was proposing a hermeneutic of cultural convenience. I’m drawn to the intent of this kind of reading of Scripture, but uncertain about its credibility and validity I want to get in Scripture where Webb and Flood take me, but I don’t know if it is the right way or just a shortcut.

  9. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

    For my part, I appreciate a “trajectory” ethic, since I think ethics must grow and evolve to fit the times. On the other hand, I think a “trajectory” hermeneutic or theology is silly. The texts say what the say; the end. I am ok with distinguishing between the two.

    • Yes! I am a big fan of emphasizing that the scripture we have is the scripture in its final form. But I do see a trajectory WITHIN the text of scripture, (not to mention that the writings emerged at various points in time within history), and I am not so sure we can divorce ethics and theology so easily.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

        Divorce might be too strong a word, since our ethics flow out of our theology. But obviously our texts simply don’t address things like IVF, corporate economics, or the United Nations. I think it is ok to admit that our ethical position on a whole lot of things are essentially our own ideas, not “biblical” ones.

        • Yeah, granted, but we’d probably all agree that the lens through which we engage in these conversations is the hope of redemption in Christ.

          Whether Christians should be circumcised was, at the time it was being discussed as recorded in Acts, not a “biblical” idea, since circumcision was for Jews only. But they did their best to put their “Christ lens”‘on and wrestle towards a viable answer. I see no difference between that and how we do ethics today.

          I think we’re on the same page, no?

      • OldProphet says

        Thanks Sean, I am in accord with you! The problem with a general use of a trajectory theology is that can go far above and out of joint where the original text was going This is where cults and sects are born. It is where men like Joseph Smith takes a base of scriptural knowledge and adds to it his “special revelation” and, LDS is born. But not only that, but don’t almost all Christian groups do this somewhere. We Evangelicals certainly do! Probably most denominations do. For sure most issues in church leadership and authority do! I guess it all comes down to where on the curve you are. Maybe its about that decision being made by who or whom?

    • But the text has a context. What may seem archaic and horrible to us now may have represented a step forward in it’s time. That in itself might model something important. Maybe we’re saying the same thing.

      • +1

        This is always what I mean by talking about trajectory WITHIN scripture. Thanks for stating it directly.

        Seeing how God has moved his people forward towards redemption in history, as seen in the contexts* of scripture, teaches us and empowers us to make choices (theology, ethics… the praxis stuff) to best bring and apply the good news to our contexts* today. It’s the task of the Missio Dei.

        *emphasis on the plural

      • Would you say that this progression reaches its culmination in the moral teachings and perfect example of Christ? Or does it continue to develop and improve within the church? Thinking back to Michael Bell’s last essay on the church fathers, I think I could go with that first one.

  10. There is a verse of scripture which can be plucked up in literalist interpretation to support a trajectory reading of the scripture, which is somewhat of a contradiction to the very basis of literalist interpretations of the scripture…

    That verse is John 16:13, particularly the first part. In the NKJV translation it reads “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” The NRSV isn’t much different, reading “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

    The He/Spirit herein is traditionally understood as the Holy Spirit. “Guide into” to me speaks literally of a process, not a one time event. So the Holy Spirit is guiding a process of the church learning the truth. What is that but a trajectory?

    But I also appreciate the concerns raised above about knowing whether we are on the right trajectory that the holy spirit is guiding us down. The guidance of the holy spirit is not an objectively verifiable fact. How do we know if someone is on the right path, and that they have not gone too far down that path?

    • ” The guidance of the holy spirit is not an objectively verifiable fact.”

      Very true. But it is a subjectively verifiable guidance, and therein lies a problem. In this age of science, “subjective” has become a dirty word. In our human reality, it is all we have if you leave behind the constraints of time and space and science. And you can get lost out there, get yourself into serious trouble without a reliable guide. Paul strongly advised us to test all things and hold fast to what we found good. That may not necessarily be the same thing for all people, and therein lies another problem. Different folks have different lessons. Your responsibility is primarily for your own lessons, as is mine for mine.

      It helps to have a community of somewhat like-minded folks to compare notes with, may in fact be one of the strongest reasons for gathering with others as we do here. It helps to have someone out in front of you that you find trustworthy, as we do with Chaplain Mike. He’s not the Pope, except for himself, as I am for me. No disrespect intended for our Catholic brothers and sisters, but I believe that following Spirit involves that risk and leap of faith of subjective knowing in your heart as it did for Jesus. I can call on the protection of his name to keep me on my path, and I also have you if think I’m blowing it. No offense intended, but Jesus does have the stronger rep.

      • With the objectively verifiable fact issue, what I had in mind was knowing whether or not somebody else is on the right path.

  11. Christiane says

    “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old
    and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New”

    St. Augustine

  12. Trajectory. I don’t see how it is possible to read Scripture with understanding without trajectory. Otherwise we are mired in instruction suitable for the early iron age but not so much for most of us today. But it is important to understand those early stories as best we can in order to establish the trajectory and figure out where we are going as best we can. Who was and who is and who is to come. That’s trajectory.

    Doing this intellectually doesn’t seem to work very well if the past two thousand years are any indication. According to the New Testament writings we are meant to do these things with the aid of Spirit, but that also has a poor record over the past two thousand years, mostly just not being done. Reading comments it is easy to see that some are frightened of Spirit, some don’t trust Spirit, and some don’t understand the difference between Spirit and human ego. It isn’t easy.

    Still and all I think Scripture and Spirit are all we have to sort our way thru all these teachings. The book under review and many that have been reviewed here recently are positing a general trajectory that resonates with me and gives me hope, not necessarily in all details. To my mind it is describing what the twenty-first century church is intended to look like as we observe the twentieth century church die a death of attrition all around us, more or less slowly in its various parts. We are fortunate to have the Monastery here as clearinghouse and harbinger.

  13. Re: slavery: Slavery in NT times was fundamentally different from slavery in the American South. Like someone else pointed out upthread, the Romanish view was more akin to indentured servitude. Equating these to make a point personally says to me that you don’t have a real argument or you wouldn’t have to completely ignore the historical context.

    Regarding violence in the Bible, I prefer to approach it from an understanding of Biblical authority akin to N.T. Wright’s.

    But what might this appropriate response look like? Let me offer you a possible model, which is not in fact simply an illustration but actually corresponds, as I shall argue, to some important features of the biblical story, which (as I have been suggesting) is that which God has given to his people as the means of his exercising his authority. Suppose there exists a Shakespeare play whose fifth act had been lost. The first four acts provide, let us suppose, such a wealth of characterization, such a crescendo of excitement within the plot, that it is generally agreed that the play ought to be staged. Nevertheless, it is felt inappropriate actually to write a fifth act once and for all: it would freeze the play into one form, and commit Shakespeare as it were to being prospectively responsible for work not in fact his own. Better, it might be felt, to give the key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors, who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves.[5]

    Consider the result. The first four acts, existing as they did, would be the undoubted ‘authority’ for the task in hand. That is, anyone could properly object to the new improvisation on the grounds that this or that character was now behaving inconsistently, or that this or that sub-plot or theme, adumbrated earlier, had not reached its proper resolution. This ‘authority’ of the first four acts would not consist in an implicit command that the actors should repeat the earlier pans of the play over and over again. It would consist in the fact of an as yet unfinished drama, which contained its own impetus, its own forward movement, which demanded to be concluded in the proper manner but which required of the actors a responsible entering in to the story as it stood, in order first to understand how the threads could appropriately be drawn together, and then to put that understanding into effect by speaking and acting with both innovation and consistency.

    This model could and perhaps should be adapted further; it offers in fact quite a range of possibilities. Among the detailed moves available within this model, which I shall explore and pursue elsewhere, is the possibility of seeing the five acts as follows: (1) Creation; (2) Fall; (3) Israel; (4) Jesus. The New Testament would then form the first scene in the fifth act, giving hints as well (Rom 8; 1 Car 15; parts of the Apocalypse) of how the play is supposed to end. The church would then live under the ‘authority’ of the extant story, being required to offer something between an improvisation and an actual performance of the final act. Appeal could always be made to the inconsistency of what was being offered with a major theme or characterization in the earlier material.


    Our role in this “play” is being directed by these writings, particularly the director whose focus is on our subset of actors (i.e. the NT). There isn’t an explicit script but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the direction we’ve been provided for the part we play. It’s also vital that we know what has happened in the play so far in order for us to fully understand the major narratives, overarching themes, and background so we can be better actors in the scenes to which we’ve been assigned.

    • What you (and Wright) have described is what we have called redemptive trajectory.

      • I don’t see it as a continuing redemptive trajectory. I believe that understanding goes beyond where the director (N.T.) has lead us so that we are now directing our own play.

    • And, by the way, though Roman slavery was in some ways different than the chattel slavery later, the very concept of slavery is abhorrent to modern moral sensibilities, as well it should be. And I would wager that Roman slavery was much more systematically cruel and demeaning than your comment suggests.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

        Yes. While indentured servitude is repugnant to any democratic sensibility, the facts as we have them indicate that Roman slavery was quite a bit more harsh and complex than this. For example, records of “bond servants” (slaves) who were taken in as a child by their master after he had murdered their whole family. You, stuff like that.

    • There were many different types of slavery in the Roman Empire, even voluntary servitude but, just as in the antebellum United States, the owner still held the power of life and death over his slave. One of the things that made the “peculiar institution” unique in this country was the racial overtones that gave an “otherness” to one’s property and was used to justify the treatment (in general terms, yes, there were exceptions) of human beings as nothing more than animals. But that is not my point.

      I’ve come to believe that, in many ways, Christianity “won”, at least in the West. There was a time, not so very long ago, when widows and orphans were left to fend for themselves; when the poor and destitute were abandoned and yes, when men and women were held in bondage but no longer. Now, there are very few who would not agree that as a society we should care for the poor and needy. In fact, we have a plethora of private and public institutions that serve the least and lost among us. The domestic political disagreements we have over many of these programs are not over should we be doing them but what is the best way to care for those less fortunate. Obviously, not everyone who believes we should do these things nor all who work for these institutions is a believer yet they are, in a very real sense, doing kingdom work.

      Over the last couple of centuries, we as a society have come to recognize the worth and dignity of all human beings and have extended that recognition beyond the traditional boundaries of adult white males to include all members of society, though obviously imperfectly. Our society has been on its own “redemptive trajectory” that is an outgrowth of the love we should have for one another as exemplified by Christ. Like all things we touch, it is tainted by the Fall but that trajectory is there, none the less.

  14. Now that the conversation has slowed, this off topic comment is brought to you by your friendly Grammar Geek.

    “There is undeniably a marked difference between the two testaments in regards to violence…”

    Please note that “in regards to” is incorrect.

    Correct forms using “regard” include:

    as regards
    in regard to

    That is all. Now to read Tokah’s story.


  15. Floods ill-informed line about “commands for God’s people to commit genocidal slaughter…” in the OT was enough to end my interest in his book. And I am a Christian pacifist. http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/09/01/30th-anniversary-chrisian-pacifism/

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